Saving our forests, no matter the cost

Saving our forests, no matter the cost

The comparison between Greece and France is very telling: In France, writes the forester-environmentalist Lefteris Stamatopoulos in his study published by dasarxeio.com, there are 16 million hectares of forest, in Greece only 3.3 million. In France, pine forests cover 4 million hectares, in Greece they cover 491,000 hectares. France has 64 firefighting aircraft, Greece has 92.

The war against the wildfire is not lost when the firefighter is standing before a burning forest, during a heatwave and with the winds swirling wildly around him. It is lost long before that

The two countries have approximately the same number of fire engines. In France there is one firefighter per 1,644 inhabitants, in Greece one per 453 inhabitants. And yet, in France the average area of forestland burned per year over the last decade is only 160,000 hectares, while in Greece it is four times that area.

Why? Because in France, the government has in place active forest management policies, while in Greece the forests (from Dadia in the northeast and Valia Calda in the northwest, to the smaller forested areas around big cities) have been left to their – ill – fate. We don’t see the kind of interest that should exist in them.

The war against the wildfire is not lost when the firefighter is standing before a burning forest, during a heatwave and with the winds swirling wildly around him. It is lost long before that, from autumn to spring. It is lost every day that passes without the competent services and volunteers entering the forests to clear them, to remove the accumulated biomass, to make sure that the forest roads are open, that the fire hydrants are working, to open fire zones. The destruction in Greece is many times greater than that in France or any other normal country, because we lose the war every day, every month, that we don’t do what we should. And what we should do is called prevention.

We remember it every time after the disaster has struck. It had been spoken about intensively after the devastating fires in Attica, Evia and Ilia in 2021. It is being repeated today. It is true that after 2021 serious preliminary work was done, mainly in the direction of having sufficient hardware to suppress fires. It is also true that the policy of prevention requires time, for objective as well as subjective reasons (office routines and rigidities). But this means that we need to try harder, more persistently, more effectively. The dilemma arises again: Either we surrender to the complacency of fatalism – that it is summer, there is heat, we will have fires – or we will react in extraordinary ways to extraordinary circumstances.

First of all, a political decision is needed: Our aim should be not to lose another square meter of Greek forest, no matter what it costs, no matter what it entails!

In practice: The government instructs the competent services and bodies to draw up a study within 30 days on what needs to be done with a five-year horizon for prevention and suppression, with a rough timetable and a description of the required costs – probably higher in the first few years, since the suppression should more than compensate for the gaps in prevention, and decreasing later on. The study is submitted to a special permanent committee of the Parliament, which invites institutions and experts inside and outside Greece and, within a few weeks, draws up a five-year action plan. It submits the plan to the plenary, where it is likely to be approved by broad consensus. Immediately, the minister of finance is instructed to find the required funds, saving resources from other actions. The plan goes into effect in the fall. Every six months the government presents an action report and is accountable to Parliament.

It’s one idea. There will be others, perhaps much better. Let’s agree on one thing: (Μasked) inactivity is not an option.

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